Lord of the Rings and the Complicated World of Tolkien’s Posthumous Work

Other Bits And Pieces

Tolkien was a prolific scholar and writer, so there are many more posthumously published works not directly connected to Middle-earth. These include re-tellings of Norse mythology and Arthurian legend, children’s stories (including The Father Christmas Letters) and translations of Old English texts.

What Is The Current Legal Situation And Why Is It So Complicated?

JRR Tolkien sold the motion picture rights to his two commercially successful novels, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, to United Artists in 1969. These were then sold to the Saul Zaentz Company in 1976. When Christopher Tolkien took over as literary executor on Tolkien Senior’s death, he made it clear that he wasn’t interested in selling the rights to any more of his father’s work. The rights to the rest of Tolkien’s works are held by the Tolkien Estate; Christopher Tolkien, along with other members of the family, was a director of the Estate until 2017.

When Amazon bought the television rights to The Lord of the Rings in 2017, these rights included only The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and none of Tolkien’s other works. They are also limited in how much use they can make of the two novels themselves, since the motion picture rights to both are held by New Line Cinema, with MGM holding rights to The Hobbit as well. Amazon’s deal was struck with the Tolkien Estate, Harper Collins (who own the rights to the books), and New Line Cinema (a division of Warner Brothers). All of these are co-producers of the series. According to The Hollywood Reporterthe attorney representing the Tolkien Estate described it as “the most complicated deal I’ve ever seen”.

As part of the agreement, Amazon agreed not to contradict any existing material – which is a pretty big thing for a creative team to commit to, considering dramatizing a story for the screen can involve some major changes to the original. The way showrunner JD Payne Payne put it to Vanity Fair was that the agreement involved “not egregiously contradicting something we don’t have the rights to” – so, they can alter things a little bit, but they can’t make significant changes to pre-existing material, even from works they can’ I used you. This depends, of course, on your definition of ‘egregious’ or ‘significant’ – for many fans, the compressing of Tolkien’s timeline from thousands of years into a single human lifetime is a drastic alteration. However, Payne said that they had talked to the Tolkien Estate about the need to compress the timeline for their show, and got the green light to go ahead with that particular change.

The Appendices to The Lord of the Rings offer only very brief details about the Second Age, and there are a few references to it in the stories as well. Anything that appears in these, even if it also appears in the same form in one of the posthumously published works, is fair game. But anything that only appears in the posthumously published works (or, indeed, any other related works published during Tolkien’s lifetime, like The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, published in 1962), cannot be used in the Amazon series.

However, for several years there have been persistent online rumors that the series will, in fact, draw on some material from the posthumously published works. As far back as 2019, when Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey parted ways with the Amazon series, there were rumors that the reason for the split was an interview he did with German fan site Tolkien Gesellschaft that had apparently implied that the series might use some material from Unfinished Tales.

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